Democracy, not secrecy

Conservatives often make the argument that multimillion-dollar corporations and billionaires with teams of lawyers and PR staff need to be protected — with the help of government-enforced laws — from ordinary Americans who might disagree with their politics. So great is the fear of intimidation and recrimination from their customers, they simply cannot be required to disclose the political candidates and messages they choose to fund. They also say that Democrats support increased disclosures as a way to stifle a corporation’s free speech. After all, corporations have fought long and hard to be recognized as people and to have money be recognized as speech.

Karl Rove, on Fox News earlier this month, even compared intimidation campaigns waged by segregationist attorneys general in the states against the NAACP’s donors in the 1940s and ’50s against the need to protect the identity of donors to organizations like Crossroads GPS, saying Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts, and I think it’s shameful.”

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“I think it’s a sign of their fear of democracy,” he said, “and it’s interesting that they have antecedents and those antecedents are a bunch of segregationist attorneys general trying to shut down the NAACP. It goes to show the basic emotions and the basic philosophy behind most of this.”

One can only imagine that the last few weeks have been a veritable reign of terror for those poor, defenseless corporations and billionaires. An outstanding coalition of progressive organizations has helped ordinary Americans exercise their financial freedom of speech — sending the message they will not spend their hard-earned money to buy goods and services from companies or organizations that fund organizations that have worked to pass legislation that could disenfranchise millions of voters, attack union and worker’s rights, or help enact the “stand your ground” laws with which they disagree. To date, more than 10 companies — including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and a growing number of state legislators have ended their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in response. 

Congressional Republicans, take note of these efforts: Americans aren’t buying the absurd argument that corporate secrecy equals democracy. It’s time to join congressional Democrats in supporting the Disclose Act sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in Congress. 

In its current form, the legislation would require any group that spends more than $10,000 on election-related advertising to release the names of donors who contributed at least $10,000. It would undo the anonymity afforded to third-party nonprofit groups engaged in political campaigns as a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United case and require organizations that sponsor political ads to report the top five funders of the ads. One of the provisions organizations and corporate titans likely fear most is the requirement that they must state their approval of an advertisement the same way political candidates do now. Yes, you must be willing to say out loud that you support a message that makes erroneous claims about President Obama’s record. And yes, your customers have a right to know so they are free to make decisions about where and with whom they spend their money, because just as 99 percent of us are held accountable for the decisions and mistakes we make, the one-percenters should be willing to accept responsibility for the political positions they fund.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”